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Cause for celebration

Erling S. Platou, M.D. (Class of 1920), a Minneapolis pediatrician and member of the Medical School's clinical faculty, led the charge to start the Minnesota Medical Foundation in 1939 and served for 10 years as its founding president.

Minnesota Medical Foundation turns 70

Seventy years ago when a group of forward-thinking Medical School alumni got together to create the Minnesota Medical Foundation (MMF), the notion of establishing a foundation to help support an educational institution was a relatively new idea.

But its visionary founders—including Harold S. Diehl, M.D., Owen Wangensteen, M.D., Ph.D., and Maurice Visscher, M.D., Ph.D.—created the foundation because they realized that state support alone was not enough to build a strong medical school. They also hoped it would help to rekindle alumni interest in the Medical School, which had waned in the wake of the Depression.

MMF’s importance to the Medical School has grown tremendously in the years since 1939. Today MMF raises millions of dollars annually in private support for health-related research, education, and service in the Medical School, School of Public Health, Masonic Cancer Center, and related centers and programs. In fiscal year 2008, the foundation raised a record $122.2 million from more than 19,000 donors. This included a pledge of $65 million—the largest donation ever made to the University—from Minnesota Masonic Charities to support cancer research.

On the occasion of MMF’s 50th anniversary in 1989, Neal Gault Jr., M.D., the recently deceased and beloved dean of the Medical School from 1972 to 1984, recalled receiving the Masons’ first gift to the University: “I remember I went in January of 1956 to the Masonic Lodge in Dinkytown and accepted 500 silver dollars from the Masons and Eastern Stars as the initial contribution toward building the Masonic Cancer Center.”

With the country on the brink of war, 1939 was not the best of times for building a fundraising organization. Nevertheless, by 1940 MMF had 415 “members,” as contributors were then called, and was administering a few special-purpose funds for the Medical School. One was a research grant from Munsingwear, a Minneapolis-based clothing manufacturer, that enabled the Department of Physiology to investigate the insulating properties of fabrics designed for military use in arctic and tropic combat zones.

Also in 1940, MMF’s first faculty research grants, totaling $800, were issued, the first endowment was established, and the inaugural issue of the Medical Bulletin was published. Visscher, an eminent cardiac physiologist and chair of the Department of Physiology at the time, was the publication’s first managing editor.

By 1944, the foundation was able to contribute $1,000 to launch the Medical School’s campaign to build the Mayo Memorial Building. Five years later, MMF awarded its first scholarships. Also in 1949, Wangensteen, who was chair of the Department of Surgery—and known simply as “the Chief”—became president of the foundation. He succeeded Erling S. Platou, M.D., a Minneapolis pediatrician and clinical faculty member who led the effort to establish MMF and served for 10 years as its founding president.

MMF gained momentum in 1959 with the appointment of its first full-time executive, Eivind O. Hoff Jr., who launched an ambitious and successful effort to expand MMF’s endowment base. Early milestones included a $200,000 bequest in 1961 from a North Dakota farmer for medical research and a $4 million bequest in 1967 from the estate of Royal and Olive Stone of St. Paul to support research in heart disease and cancer.

By the turn of the 21st century, MMF was making giant strides. During the University’s seven-year Campaign Minnesota, concluding in 2003, the foundation raised $516 million through gifts from more than 66,000 benefactors—a far reach from its humble but promising beginnings.

By Kristine Mortensen

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